Friday Review

Spotlight on 'Edirneechal' Raman

(Clockwise from top left) S. Raman; with K. Balachander; in ‘Pushpalatha’; and sharing the stage with Nagesh. Photo: M. Vedhan and Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: M_VEDHAN

Every year, Iyakkunar Sigaram K. Balachander award for excellence in theatre, instituted by Kavitalaya Krishnan is given to a stage artist, different sabhas playing host to the function. This year, Y. Prabhu of Krishna Gana Sabha suggested that the award be given to ‘Nair’ Raman. It took Krishnan more than a week to track down Raman, because Raman has been out of the drama circuit for many years.

In a conversation with this writer, Raman looks back at his stage experience.

As with most actors of the time, his first innings on stage was in an office play. The chance to act before a bigger audience came to him providentially.

One day, in 1953, he saw a brilliant piece of mono acting at Raja Annamalai Mandram, by a man in his twenties. Raman struck up a friendship with the actor, a friendship that was to last decades. That actor was K. Balachander.

Balachander gave Raman a role in his play, ‘Pushpalatha,’ which was staged 250 times. In 1959, Sukrita Lakshmi Vilasa Sabha organised a drama contest at Soundarya Mahal in Govindappa Naicken Street. Raman was adjudged the best actor, for ‘Pushpalatha’.

The two friends were also members of YMCA, and would often meet to discuss stories. G. Balasubramaniam, (GB), who co-authored the story for the film, ‘Paalum Pazhamum,’ would also be present. “I consider G.B. my fist guru,” says Raman.

KB’s Ragini Recreations, was formed in 1958, taking its name from script writer –‘Ragini’ Gopalakrishnan, who wrote two popular plays ‘Guppan Gas’ and ‘Dr. Kairasi’, in both of which Nagesh acted with Raman.

After 1960, Ragini Recreations began to do lengthier plays. For the first few plays, Raman was in charge of backstage work. “It was Film News Anandan who taught me backstage management. With a piece of chalk, he would draw small squares behind the stage, and label them according to the scenes, putting into each the relevant props.”

Raman played a small role in ‘Server Sundaram,’ but his big break came in 1966, with ‘Edirneechal,’ in which he played the role of ‘Nair,’ the man with a kind heart but a tough exterior. The day after the inaugural show, Dinathanthi carried a review which said, “In a play in which Nagesh was the hero, acting honours should go to Raman, who acted as a Malayalee cook.” The Hindu wrote, “The character, apart from Madhu, who won the greatest appreciation from the audience was Nair…. a role acted most attractively by S. Raman.” This role earned Raman the moniker, ‘Nair.’

In Shanmukhananda Sabha, Bombay, ‘Edirneechal’ was staged on three consecutive days. “One of the two balconies would be full of Malayalees. They would cheer the moment I appeared on stage,” recalls Raman.

Praise also came from unexpected quarters. “One day, Balyu of Kumudam came to my office and said, ‘I’ve just been to M.S. Subbulakshmi’s house, and she said she was really impressed with your acting in ‘Edirneechal’.’ I wept, when I heard that,” says Raman. After her daughter Srividya’s debut stage performance, M.L. Vasanthakumari said to Raman, “You were brilliant as Nair. I want you to bless my daughter.”

However, when ‘Edirneechal’ was filmed, Muthuraman was chosen for the role of Nair, and Raman was heartbroken. Balachander sent many emissaries to Raman, asking him to come for the shooting. He refused, initially. Afterwards, he ruminated over the compulsions a filmmaker had, and felt it was wrong to keep brooding. So he went to the shooting, and Balachander would tell him to act out scenes, so that Muthuraman would pick up cues from him.

Later, the film was remade in Telugu as ‘Sambarala Rambabu,’ with S.V. Ranga Rao as ‘Nair.’ The producer was actor Challam, who wanted Raman to supervise the shoot. For the ‘Sedi Ketto’ song, Raman suggested that Ranga Rao dance, which he refused as he said, “I can’t dance to save my life.” Raman then told him that he just had to do a few comic moves. Ranga Rao agreed, and this turned out to be the most popular segment of the song.

After watching Raman in Komal Swaminathan’s ‘Swarga Bhoomi,’ S.P.Muthuraman said that ‘Nair’ Raman had now become ‘Naxalite’ Raman. “Author Lakshmi (Tripurasundari) told me that my portrayal of a naxalite in ‘Swarga Bhoomi’ was so realistic, that it sent a chill down her spine,” says Raman.

Raman not only acted in films but became the associate director to both Balachander and Balu Mahendra. His role in the film, ‘Mohamul,’ also won him praise, including from music director Ilayaraja.

Raman says taking part in All India Radio’s plays for 18 years taught him voice modulation. Together with comedian ISR, Raman cut two discs for HMV, of a humorous skit in Kathakalakshepam style.

In his ochre robes, Raman, now 81, looks more a sanyasi than the fiery Nair of ‘Edirneechal.’ He says an incident in the life of Nagaiah made him realise how ephemeral fame was, and that gradually led him to spirituality. In his twilight years, Nagaiah was in Kovur for a shoot, and while waiting for his scene, he went to sleep on the pyol of a house. When he woke up, he found that the crew had left, forgetting all about him. “This left an impact on me,” says Raman.

Raman acts out for me scenes from different plays — he is a revolutionary smouldering with rage one minute and a woman with a dainty mien the next. Clearly, the acting spark is alive. Would he like to act now? “I’d love to do a big role on stage, before I exit this world,” Raman says.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 8:46:41 PM |

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